The phone rings, I pick up and a very chipper sounding man announces: “Hey, it’s Tom Arnold!“. I AM, in fact, expecting a call from Tom Arnold, star of “True Lies”, “The Stupids”, “McHale’s Navy” and “Happy Endings” but it still feels sort of surreal. I mean-it’s Tom Arnold. If we were to rank people I never thought would be calling me on a scale from 1 to 10, Tom Arnold is a solid 9.5. Tom Arnold is a guy who people know for his emotional tattoo moments (among other things) and I am a girl who people (sort of) know for her emotional movie tastes (among other things). But that exclamation point in his intro is making me feel good about this whole thing.
Still, it IS him and he’s en route to the Dr. Drew show and the connection is sort of spotty but he assures me “If we lose reception, I’ll call you back straight away, I promise”. Which he does (and yes, he says again “Hey, it’s Tom Arnold!”). Which is more than I can say about some other people I’ve interviewed.
And pretty fast a picture forms itself: Tom Arnold is a guy who introduces himself. Tom Arnold is a guy who WILL call you back when he says he will. Tom Arnold is a guy that will tell the person he’s driving with to turn the music off because it’s distracting him from our conversation. In short-Tom Arnold is a guy that’s nice. A NICE GUY, if you will. He’s nice more so than anything else, you feel: sure he’s a good, eager person to talk to, he’s pretty funny at times during our 30 minute chat, he seems to know himself very well and is almost brutally honest about everything you ask him about, but mainly, what he is-is nice.
And since nice guy Tom Arnold is coming to Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse this weekend for two days and four shows, we figured, hey, why not catch up with the man? And so, he called, introduced himself and we made the most of it. This is what we talked about:
- What it is like to be back doing stand up comedy almost thirty years after you started in it… To hear Tom tell it, he just wanted to get really good at it again. He started out in 1982, did a bunch of stand up for years, including a 1990 HBO 3 hour sketch series with Judd Apatow (this was Apatow’s first job ever, btw), but he never did his very own comedy special and the only way he’d get to do it would if he got really good at it again. So every couple of weeks, he packs his bags and goes someplace people told him is a good place to perform stand-up at and he does it. Things have changed obviously, since he no longer lives with 6 roommates in a small apartment (“Though, hey, you never know when you may end up back in that situation”) and his old material doesn’t work anymore but he’s having fun with it. He hates the traveling part though. He kind of just wants to hang out with his new wife in LA more. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- So, what does he like about it so much that he’s willing to put up with the travel bits…. Well, funny you should ask, what Tom Arnold really likes about it – IS YOU. Everywhere he goes this is what he does: he will shake your hand (every single one of you, if you want your hand shaken that is), he will take a photo with you (every single one of you, if you want your photo taken with him that is), he will try and get to know you and he will NOT judge you if you decide to judge him. Which sometimes happens. But Tom Arnold is ok with that, because he used to be a judgy kind of guy himself, and he knows that you just need to live a little and be judged a little yourself to really understand where he’s coming from. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- Now these people that come to Tom Arnold shows-what are they like? What do people bring up most of the time? What is their Tom Arnold memory of note? …. According to Tom, the first couple of minutes, they’re all always deciding: Do I like this guy or not? Is this guy a jerk or not? Sometimes, more often than it would be funny, people say things like: “I thought you were dead?”. But that’s ok too with Tom. In his opinion, he’s always been an open book, and people have always known who he’s been married to, what he’s been doing, the hat from “The Stupids”, whose face he’s been tattooing and removing, he’s just sometimes surprised that even kids that were not born in 1990 still know who he had been romantically involved with back then. But hey, bad experiences make for good comedy, and as Dave Letterman once told him” You do the jokes about yourself before other get to”. That’s the key. According to Dave. And according to Tom too. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- Does he still get nervous? Yeah, he does. But he always feels great afterwards. Actually, one gets the impression Tom Arnold feels pretty good these days. He hasn’t got much to complain about, knock on wood-he says. And you actually do knock on wood for him, that’s the effect the man has on you, dammit. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- Next, I ask him-he’s been doing some dramatic roles lately. How has that been for him? Especially since he’s been so well known for so many years as a comedian, and not necessarily an actor… It’s been great. Being on things like “SONS OF ANARCHY” this year, making movies like “HAPPY ENDINGS” and “TOUCH” and working with people like Steve Buscemi and John Malkovich. Hey, he even got to play a villain in a movie he was in with John (“Gardens of the Night”-ed). Tom Arnold IS the villain and NOT John Malkovich. Who would have thought that?-he asks. But he gets a little nervous about those too. Like, in “HAPPY ENDINGS” where he had a love scene with Maggie Gylenhall, he worried about people not taking it seriously. It is this important moment and then, he takes his shirt off and…what if people laugh? He always worries about hurting the movie rather than helping. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- About the hardest role he ever played…. Tom Arnold has made 100 movies in his career. That’s A LOT of movies. He’s played funny people, stupid people, he’s played a prison rapist even, but the role he hated the most was the pedophile in “Gardens of the night”. But it was an important role for him to play because Tom Arnold has been a victim of child abuse and being vocal about it is something that is hard but is also necessary. Because people need to know-that these things happen, that you never know what the people doing things like these look like, or who they are and that being aware is a good way to protect yourself and your loved ones. What’s your celebrity for, Tom asks me, if you’re not going to use your visibility for a cause you care about? I’m not a celebrity but I just nod silently into the phone. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- Speaking of celebrity-Tom’s found it in many different avenues: sitcoms, stand-up, motion pictures, FOX sports shows…is this the career he set out to have when he set out to have a career? Ha-no, he laughs. When he was a kid growing up in Iowa (“I’m from Iowa, you know”-he says both as a matter of pride AND as an explanation) all he wanted to do was be funny, maybe be on TV once or twice if he was good enough and then people would like him. And the thing is -you do believe him when he says that (very rarely do you think Tom Arnold is bullshitting you, he’s just not that kind of a guy, if he wanted to be a massive movie star, hell yeah, he’d admit to that). (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- So-what happened?… Well, he used to work at the Hormel meat packing plant (the same job his Grandfather had for 50 years) and he thought “Hey, that’s some job security, right there”. Then-he got fired. So, he came to LA and got to doing stand-up and then he got a job as a writer (on “Roseanne” which lead to everything you know about Tom Arnold today) and he thought “Hey, that’s a real job” and then before he knew it he was on TV and then…all that went away. So he started working in movies, and then this FOX Sports chat show came about and Tom Arnold has always been a sports fan, so he said-WHY NOT? and did that for four years and then made some more movies and now, he’s writing his second book and doing another Fox Sports pilot and you know, no job has security these days but (knock on wood)-it’s been going ok. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)
- And, what’s next? … Well, Tom Arnold is constantly torn between his fear of being trapped in one place and his desire to be stable and in that exact place always. So, he’s going to try and figure that out. But he and his best man (from is fourth marriage) Dax Sheppard and some of their buddies (including Bradley Cooper) just made a fun little mock-umentary (or mock-buster) called “Brother’s Justice” which, to hear Tom tell is, is pretty great and was pretty great to hang out with all those guys….
- ….and he doesn’t want to jinx anything (“Call me in a couple of weeks and I’ll tell you how 2011 was, it’s not quite over yet) but his personal life has been great and he really, can’t wait to come and hang out and take photos with you this weekend. Then-who knows? Short term goals wise though, he’s feeling solid. And you can’t help but, against all odds, be happy for him. (Did we mention that Tom Arnold is a really nice guy?)